|Rookie Battles in the West|
By Darryl Dobbs
Camps open up in three days (in the case of Anaheim and Los Angeles – they are already open) and hockey poolies are very interested in the kids that will be in camp with a legitimate shot at a roster spot. This week (as well as last), we’ll analyze the odds of a rookie cracking the lineup and what kind of impact we can expect to see in the campaign ahead.
If Teemu Selanne does not return (and he is already going to miss much of training camp), there is a spot open on the wing on a scoring line. Drew Miller, Ryan Carter and Bobby Ryan – all rookies – will compete for it. Indications are that Ryan will be given a year of seasoning in the AHL, so barring an eye-opening performance in camp by him, the job will go to Miller or Carter. While Miller (brother of Buffalo’s Ryan Miller) has a little more upside, Carter should not be counted out. Carter was never drafted and the Ducks always seem to nurture diamonds in the rough like that (Andy McDonald, Dustin Penner).
One of Brent Krahn and Curtis
McElhinney will do battle for the right to back up Miikka Kiprusoff.
Krahn has the inside track, but his injury history could prove costly
– McElhinney is coming off a great AHL campaign, which was made possible
by another one of Krahn’s injuries.
Dustin Boyd also has a real shot at a depth role down the middle. Coach Mike Keenan could go either way with this, so pay attention to training camp – Boyd has fairly high upside.
There will be no rookies of
any consequence here. Oh, wait a minute – Jonathan Toews and Patrick
Toews is a lock for the second-line
center position and he is probably for the first-line job. The ‘Hawks
believe Kane will also make the team and if so, they won’t be putting
him on the third or fourth line – that’s for certain. Toews should
be a 60-point player this year and could flirt with 70. Kane likely
won’t be far behind.
Another rookie, Jack Skille, turned pro at the end of last season and impressed mightily during his brief AHL stint. He has an outside shot at cracking the lineup, but will likely be brought along much more slowly than the other two.
T.J. Hensick is ready for the NHL. The only problem is – the Avs are full up front. That being said, his offensive skills are better than most of the regulars that are currently on the team – and not just fourth liners either, I’m talking about players such as Marek Svatos and Andrew Brunette. His creativity and shiftiness with the puck are elite. Will the Avs wait one more year for him? Likely, but his performance in camp could change their minds.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Under new GM Scott Howson and
coach Ken Hitchcock, the Jackets have developed a philosophy that will
see the team wait longer for their prospects develop before bringing
them into the NHL.
That being said, both Derrick
Brassard and Jakub Voracek have their full attention in development
camp, lighting the lamp with regularity. Another three weeks of this
stuff and you may see both youngsters sneak onto the squad.
The one player who did have a real shot at making the team, blue-chip defenseman Kris Russell, has been less than stellar so far. The team needs a power-play quarterback, but they won’t just hand the job over to Russell – he needs to earn it. Keep a close watch on all three of these youngsters.
Nicklas Grossman could make this team, as could 25-year-old Vadim Khomitski. While Grossman has been the one who was projected to be a possible power-play quarterback, it has been Khomitski who has impressed offensively since coming to North America. His seven points in nine games for Iowa (AHL) are almost as many as Grossman posted in 67 games. Whichever youngster makes the squad (my money is on Khomitski) will play on the second power-play unit.
Detroit Red Wings
Igor Grigorenko will finally make his long-awaited appearance in North America this week in camp. The Wings (and Detroit media) are very cautious with their expectations of this former blue-chipper, but I’m quite confident that you will see him in a Red Wings uniform come October. Coach Mike Babcock brought Jiri Hudler along very slowly last season, so there is the danger that Grigorenko will get the same treatment. However, he is older than Hudler was and the fact that he can go back to Russia if he does not make the team should ensure that he has the opportunity to earn a second-line role.
Robert Nilsson does not qualify as a rookie, but he is assured of a spot on the team. Andrew Cogliano and Rob Schremp are both rookies who will battle for the third-line center position. Both pivots are high-end offensive talents and whoever wins should sport a 40-point season right off the bat. Down the road, both players have the potential for 80 or more points and should be selected in your keeper league drafts this month (if they are not owned already).
Los Angeles Kings
With all their new acquisitions this summer, the only rookie that will crack the lineup this year is Jack Johnson. The hard-hitting rearguard will eventually develop into a 60-point player, but after seeing his cup of coffee at the end of last season it looks like he will be a few years away from those levels.
James Sheppard is a big and
strong centerman whom the Wild have secretly penciled in for their first
line. I say ‘secretly’ because the team clearly does not want to
put any pressure on him, but they are keeping their fingers crossed
in hopes that he earns the spot in training camp. He will audition between
Marian Gaborik and Pavol Demitra – you can see the potential there.
Sheppard is impressing more and more with every month that passes.
Right wing Petr Kalus also impressed during a nine-game stint in Boston last season and has picked up where he left off in Minnesota’s development camp. The 20-year-old sniper could sneak onto the third line with some strong play.
Pekka Rinne is the only rookie with a real hope of making the team this year – and that hope is not as strong as you would think. His two-year contract is one-way…next season. This season, however, his contract is a two-way deal. Meanwhile, Dan Ellis signed a one-way deal for $500,000. That would give Ellis a slight edge, despite his poor season in the minors last year.
Coyote fans are champing at
the bit to see this kid play – Peter Mueller. Big, strong and skilled,
Mueller is not only expected to make the team, but he is expected to
anchor the first line and produce 55 points at the very least in his
rookie year. A Calder Trophy favorite, Mueller should be high on everyone’s
Alexei Kaigorodov was a victim
of the numbers game in Ottawa a year ago, but that won’t be the case
this time around. The ‘Yotes traded Mike Comrie to get him, so expect
him to make the team and put up 30 or 40 points as a rookie. He has
the skill to do more in the NHL, but let’s see how he does in this
first full season before we decide if he fits the second- or third-line
center mold. Martin Hanzal is another pivot who has size and skill,
but would be best served with one year of AHL service under his belt.
Long term though he could be a good one.
Daniel Carcillo proved he belonged at the end of last year. A potential Sean Avery-clone, Carcillo will have a real shot at leading the NHL in penalty minutes. He’ll also contribute 30 points, which makes him a viable option in many fantasy formats.
San Jose Sharks
Similar to Calgary, the Sharks
will let a pair of rookies do battle for the right to become the backup
goaltender. Thomas Greiss is coming off an impressive 43-game stint
in the AHL in which he posted solid numbers…but he’s just 21. Dimitri
Patzold is 24, but his AHL numbers are far inferior. Give the edge to
Greiss on this one, but training camp will definitely decide.
There is a depth spot on the wing available and while Devin Setoguchi is likely next on the depth chart, the Sharks will likely give the job to Mike Iggulden. The big, undrafted power forward has shored up his defensive game while improving his offensive numbers at the same time in Worcester last season. He is ready to make the jump and is better suited for a depth role. Setoguchi could use a lot of ice time – something he would not get in San Jose this year.
St. Louis Blues
In Eric Johnson, the Blues feel that they have the best up-and-coming defenseman since Chris Pronger. If so, then that means Johnson will be six or seven years of developing before he pops offensively. Indications are, however, that his offensive game is further along than Pronger’s was at that age. Besides – the Blues lack a power-play quarterback, so Johnson will have every opportunity to shine.
While Jannik Hansen, Jozef
Balej and Alexander Edler could all make the squad this year, none of
them will be used in an important role and none of them will tally even
25 points this season. Well…perhaps I’m being too harsh – Balej
has offensive talent and if he can steal a role on the first or second
line, he could surprise. Don’t count on it though.
For more fantasy hockey tips/info, check out www.dobberhockey.com. Don’t forget to pick up the highly acclaimed DobberHockey Fantasy Pool Guide – buy now and receive a free updated guide on Sept. 21. Just $9.95
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